Published on October 28th, 2019 | by Sunit Nandi0
The US National Hockey League embraces new tech
Compared to most mainstream sports, America’s National Hockey League has been somewhat behind in terms of adopting advanced technology and investing in innovations. Over the past decade, data and analytics have been embraced by basketball, baseball, American football and European football, but hockey has lagged behind – surprising given that the industry in the states churns out billions of dollars each year.
But the sport is about to step properly into the 21st century, only just as the second decade draws to a close, with the introduction of some innovative in-rink technology.
Photo by Unknown / CC0 1.0
A 25-year old dream
It’s been almost 25 years in the making, but the NHL is almost ready to properly unveil its puck and player technology. Yes, the answer to taking a big data approach lies in the humble hockey puck – which makes sense given it’s the one element in rink that gets interacted with the most.
For two decades now, the NHL has been focused on developing a trackable puck, which will collect vital data and make fan interaction much easier. Although the league originally partnered with Jogmo World Corp. to develop this technology, it’s their long term tech media partners, Sports Media Technology, who have since taken the reins.
The NHL’s current playing season kicked off in October, and some sites like FoxBet are already offering wagers for the most-liked teams this season. However, this new technology will be deployed sooner rather than later. The puck and player tracking system will essentially collate a “tsunami of data” about player performance, including speed, execution, efficacy of shots etc, which the league hopes will drive “more engagement…generate incremental revenue for us and for our clubs” as well as making media rights more valuable, in addition to helping team coaches to do their jobs.
Game changing data
SMT’s innovative technology seems simplistic when you put it in black and white – infrared tech and radio frequency sensors are embedded into the pucks and into player clothing – but when you factor in the processing devices that need to be mounted into the hockey arenas, it takes things to a whole new scale.
The processing devices will meticulously record the individual coordinates of both puck and player on the ice, hundreds of times a second, before feeding it into artificial intelligence software. The software will then collate these data points and form them into meaningful and useful statistics, like a player’s top speed, which will be accessible on the bespoke Oasis computer system. It’s a big data approach that, as the league’s Chief Technology Officer, Peter DelGiancco states “is a game changer”.
Photo by Zuzanna Cizikova / CC0 1.0
Aiming for the 2020 playoffs
The nature of this new software means that installation plans have to be created and followed for each of the individual NHL arenas. Although the NHL had hoped to fully deploy the tech during the 2019/20 season, a more realistic timeline is focused on the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs next April.
The technology will be deployed in waves, although it has already been trialled during the 2019 NHL All-Stars Skills and All-Star Game live broadcast. Currently, the host of the 2020 All Star Game, St Louis Enterprise Centre, as well as the Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena, are the only two arenas with the technology fully installed, but next on the list are the arenas in Washington D.C, San Jose, Raleigh, Toronto and North Carolina – the cities with the teams most likely to make 2020 postseason.
Improving the fan experience in more ways than one
In other NHL tech news, the league could someday soon adopt the NBA’s idea of smart jerseys.
The New York Islanders are due to get a new home in 2021 at Belmont Park, and owner Jon Ledecky aims to make the arena as interactive and state of the art as possible. Along with Virtual Reality integration, Islanders fans could soon be wearing interactive jerseys when they turn out for a game.
These “smart jerseys”, tipped as being part of “the future of sports” when it comes to fan engagement, would change names and numbers as wearers enter the arena. They were first unveiled at the All-Star Technology Summit earlier this year, where NBA commissioner Adam Silver demonstrated their ability to switch name and number in a matter of seconds using a mobile app. If they were to be developed beyond just prototypes, they could become part of a rich and interactive fan experience that Ledecky predicts will have fans “excited about jumping in the car or going on the railroad” to attend games.